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David Keighley’s BBC Watch: Forget bias, Ministers fret over the meaningless ‘gender pay gap’


The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (as it is now known), it seems, has finally been galvanised into contemplating action against the BBC. It has a dragon to slay.

Is it the relentless barrage of anti-Brexit bias emanating from the Corporation? It continues unabated, as is illustrated adroitly here – yet again – in analysis of Andrew Marr’s relentlessly anti-Brexit questioning of his key EU-related guests. The vast majority of 44 questions put to them over the past three weeks were negative about Brexit.

No. In DCMS’s world, it seems, there are bigger fish to fry. Too few of the the BBC’s top earners – in a list due to be published this week – are women.

Shock horror! There’s ‘pay disparity’ between the sexes in the higher echelons of the BBC gilded cage and now ministers, it is claimed, are ready to take action to ensure the balance is redressed.

‘Tilting at windmills’ is here totally appropriate. First, because the BBC has been discriminating against men for years to the extent that, according to the ONS, 48.7 per cent of its 21,000 staff are already women, and the eventual target for its workforce may be as high as 60 per cent.

Second, because the BBC receives such massive levels of income from the public purse that it pays its 3,000 staff in journalism roles – at least half of whom are presumably women – well over the going rate. Such BBC staff are on an average of almost £42,000 a year, which, according to UK Press Gazette, is heading towards 40 per cent higher than equivalent posts in the commercial sector.

The BBC headlines the Labour agendas of ‘austerity’ and ‘spending cuts’ at every opportunity. But the Corporation is thus seemingly totally immune from any such pressures.

That, however, as already noted, is not the problem. For the Government, no, the DCMS is up in arms because too few women are among the top Corporation earners, the 109 who pull in more than £150,000 a year earned by the Prime Minister.

Is not the key point here why the BBC is dishing out such huge salaries in the first place? It is reported, for example, that political editor Laura Kuenssberg  is paid between £300,000 and £350,000 a year. That’s heading towards £1,000 a day for her to offer what many would say was rather mundane bread and butter analysis. By contrast, James Harding, the overall boss of the 7,000+ staff in the news division earns £340,000 a year. Is that gender discrimination in Kuenssberg’s favour?

Another indicator of the Corporation’s continued gilded-cage largesse with the public purse is that – hard on the heels of the £1 billion spent on the rebuilding of its West End HQ – they are splashing out £120m on a Norman Foster-designed new HQ for BBC Wales in Cardiff.

And meanwhile, as noted above, the BBC anti-Brexit negativity churns on unchecked.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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